Health officials are investigating a deadly outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease in a Northern California county.
Twelve Napa County residents have been diagnosed and hospitalized with the rare lung infection since July 11, according to the Napa County Department of Public Health. Among them, one person died and three people remain hospitalized, health officials said Wednesday.
As part of its investigation, the county has been testing man-made water sources, including cooling towers and decorative fountains, for the presence of the bacteria that causes Legionnaires’ disease.
Preliminary results found “high levels” of Legionella bacteria in a sample taken from a cooling tower at the Embassy Suites Napa Valley hotel in the city of Napa.
The cooling tower has been taken offline, “which mitigates any continued risk to public health,” and the county health department said it continues to identify any other sources that have dangerous amounts of the bacteria.
“Our joint investigation team continues to work with Embassy Suites staff to remediate the source of exposure,” Napa County Health Officer Dr. Karen Relucio said in a statement. “Finding Legionella in a water sample is an important piece of the puzzle, but we need to continue to investigate other cooling towers and water sources in the outbreak area, as it is common to find more than one source.”
None of the 12 patients diagnosed with Legionnaires’ disease have stayed or visited the Embassy Suites hotel, health officials said.
An Embassy Suites by Hilton Napa Valley spokesperson told ABC News that the hotel continues to “fully cooperate” with the county’s ongoing investigation.
“We are awaiting a full report with test results from the health department, however, let us remain diligent in our commitment to providing a safe and hospitable environment for all,” the spokesperson said in a statement. “Based on that commitment and learning of your concerns, we immediately contacted our consultant and water treatment provider to ensure we were following the guidance set forth by the health department and began remediation.”
Legionella bacteria grow in warm water and can become a health problem when spread in man-made water systems such as cooling towers, hot tubs, decorative fountains, and plumbing systems. People can get Legionnaires’ disease by breathing in small droplets of water that contain the bacteria.
Symptoms of Legionnaires’ disease include cough, fever, and shortness of breath. It is not spread from person to person and can be treated with antibiotics when caught early.
People at higher risk for Legionnaires’ disease, a serious type of pneumonia, include people over age 50, smokers, and people with chronic lung disease or compromised immune systems.
The person who died in the Napa County outbreak was over 50 years old and had risk factors for “serious illness,” health officials said.
“Although Legionnaires’ disease is a rare infection, this is a reminder that the bacteria that cause it are common in nature and can be found in man-made water systems,” Relucio said. “This means it is very important that owners and managers of water systems that can create aerosols take steps to prevent Legionella from growing and spreading in water systems.”
Health departments reported nearly 10,000 cases of Legionnaires’ disease in the US in 2018, although the true number may be 1.8 to 2.7 times higher than reported, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. US Disease Prevention About one in 10 cases is fatal, the CDC said.